Several epidemiological studies suggest an increased incidence of thyroid carcinoma (TC) in recent years, especially for the papillary histotype (PTC), suggesting that specific carcinogens might promote molecular abnormalities that are typical of PTC. The increased incidence is probably attributed to more intensive and sensitive diagnostic procedures, even if recent data suggest that various toxic elements could explain the phenomenon. Ionizing radiation exposure represents the most accepted risk factor for differentiated thyroid cancer that includes both the follicular and papillary histotypes. In this review, we examined the other environmental carcinogens that play a role in TC, such as eating habits, living in volcanic areas, and xenobiotic elements. Among eating habits, iodine intake represents one of the more discussed elements, because its deficiency is associated with follicular thyroid carcinomas (FTCs), while its progressive increment seems to be responsible for PTC. The gas, ash, and lava emissions of volcanoes are composed of various toxic compounds that pollute ground water, vegetables, and animals, contaminating humans via the food chain. Finally, the risk of developing PTC has also been associated with exposure of the population to xenobiotics in the environment or in the home. Their carcinogenic effects are probably caused by their accumulation, but additional studies are necessary to better understand the mechanisms of action.
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